Top publicist's tips for writers: Q&A with Lissy Peace
Published: May 3, 2011
Lissy Peace is president of Lissy Peace & Associates, a Chicago-based public relations firm representing clients around the world. Peace’s bio lists clients in entertainment venues and productions, manufacturers and retail entities, creative properties, global events, high profile restaurants, chefs and cookbooks, authors, entrepreneurs and producers, and world-recognized personalities among many others. Peace has worked with authors like William Sloane Coffin (Credo) and she publicized the launch of the new Nancy Drew graphic novel series. Entertainment campaigns include clients like Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and others. Peace toured with Garrison Keillor, promoting his live performances and book, The Book of Guys. Peace agreed to answer questions and offer tips for writers in search of a publicist.
Kay B. Day
Q: What can a writer expect a publicist to do?
A: A good publicist can work with a writer to create a campaign that empowers the volume of placements secured by looking at parts as well as the whole of the fiction story. Most characters have several layers to their personae, all created by the author. A good publicist can capture ideas from each of the characters as well as the story, incidents or plot line.
For a nonfiction title, the publicist should be able to take the concrete information found in the book and generate a collection of story ideas from that information.
A publicist should work with a writer to create a media package that includes a press release, bio, story ideas, and interview questions. These interview questions are a guide to help the writer and the interviewers on how to get the most out of an interview. For example, authors should say the name of their book in an interview—not “in my book.”
Q: What criteria would you suggest a writer use to select a publicist for a book?
A: There is a big difference in how fiction and nonfiction books are publicized. When looking for a publicist, make sure that the publicist in consideration has worked with the type of book the writer is publishing. Ask for recent samples of their placements, not just a list of outlets they’ve reached. Make sure that it’s the publicist you’re speaking with that secured the placement, and [that the placement was] not the firm’s effort.
Q: What's the greatest misconception you encounter among writers who are prospective clients? [Personally I think writers view a publicist from a quantitative sales standpoint, confusing branding with sales efforts, but that's just my opinion based on anecdotal evidence from numerous events I've spoken at as an author. ]
A: You are absolutely right!
One of the biggest misconceptions is that people view publicity as advertising and it’s far from that. Books are bought because of word of mouth. Authors need to invest in building their names with the bookstores, book buyers, libraries, and book clubs. Unless your name is immediately famous in the book buying community, 90% of the authors out there need publicity to generate attention for their book. Publicity is the vehicle to communicate the writer’s point of view.
Most publicists have no control over distribution, and many times sales results cannot be directly tied to publicity efforts. Publishers and distributors have their agreements. If the volume of publicity is there, the books will move. It just doesn’t happen overnight and there are way too many variables that can hinder or help book sales. Many first time authors associate a dollar value with a sales number and unfortunately this is not a realistic expectation of a publicity campaign.
Q: Reasonably speaking, how does a writer budget for a publicist? In other words, do publicists offer different packages, or do they work off a set fee or hourly basis?
A: In today’s competitive book market, there are all types of programs offered to writers/authors/publishers with any budget. My company offers both retainer campaigns and project work. Most firms offer a plethora of packages including retainer fee, hourly, number of placements, time frame, set-up, press kit development, tours, phone/internet campaigns or print.
Q: What warning signs should a writer heed when meeting with a publicist about a potential agreement? [I base this on some of the substandard releases I get from publicists that appear to be fly by night outfits. For instance, I may write about one book out of hundreds of releases I receive.]
A: Make sure that your publicist has read your book. It may sound silly but if the publicist that is working with you hasn’t read the book and is working off the release, that is a disaster waiting to happen. Make sure you get involved with the materials that are written and sent out. Don’t be shy—ask to see the press release and make changes if need be.
Q: Does a publicist help an author project sales, or give them an idea what sort of sales may be accomplished by specific efforts?
A: An independent publicist doesn’t have access to sales numbers. A publishing house PR team member may have access to distribution plans. Most publicists know of a particular show that is recognized for selling lots of books, but don’t know the volume of books sold. Those types of numbers are only accessible to the publisher and they have to wait weeks for a report to get a better idea of how many books are sold. They know how many books are out in the stores, but don’t have an accurate count until the stores file their reports every week on how many have been sold.
Q: Any general advice you'd like to offer?
A: Be flexible! In today’s crazy, constantly changing media environment, you never know what will strike and push sales. While I know everyone wants ‘The Today Show,’ not all authors are going to be on a show of that caliber. All the successful authors I work with know that all media interviews are valuable. With the Internet today, an interview on a small station in a small market at an odd time can go global.
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for
The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International,
The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To learn more about Kay Day, see www.kayday.com. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.